There are certain things to expect when you sit down to watch a James Gunn film. There are perfectly placed needle drops. There’s a sense of humor that swings from wildly juvenile to genuinely clever. There’s a CGI and/or animal character that the audience will fall in love with. And you can almost always expect Gunn’s brother Sean Gunn and Michael Rooker to show up in some capacity. All three make an appearance in The Suicide Squad, his latest comic book blockbuster.
But the trope that best defines Gunn’s filmography is that of “found family” – where a group of characters who couldn’t have less in common band together for a common cause, forming a familial bond along the way. This trope has previously appeared in both Guardians of the Galaxy films and will no doubt be part of Gunn’s third and final film with the intergalactic a-holes. The Suicide Squad takes a new approach to this, exploring the fractured or toxic relationships between each member of Task Force X and their families and how the bonds they form with each other help them deal with their respective traumas.
Consider Idris Elba’s Bloodsport. Robert DuBois was trained from a very young age to be an assassin by his father, and as a result, became a hardened mercenary who has a fractured relationship with his daughter, Tyla (Storm Reid). Their first scene together consists of them screaming obscenities at each other. “I told you that any goodness I had in me was wrung out by my old man,” he growls. However, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is able to coerce Bloodsport into joining the Suicide Squad’s mission to Corto Maltese by threatening to send Tyla to Belle Reve, hinting that he’s not the total monster he claims to be.
More of Bloodsport’s hidden depth is revealed during his interactions with Cleo Cazo, aka Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior). At first, the two don’t get along: Cleo possesses a device that allows her to control rats, which ties into a lifelong phobia that Bloodsport holds. However, the two bond while talking about their fathers. Bloodsport reveals that his father once locked him in a crate full of rats to punish him for a perceived failure, while Cleo’s father, the original Ratcatcher (Taika Waititi) summoned rats to keep her warm at night and steal trinkets for them to live on. Bloodsport even says that Cleo reminds him of his daughter; Cleo, in turn, insists that her pet rat Sebastian senses “good” in the armored mercenary.
Both of them also promise to get each other out of Corto Maltese alive, and they hold true to that promise. Bloodsport has a shootout with Peacemaker (John Cena) when the patriotic-themed villain threatens Cleo’s life, then during Starro’s rampage in Corto Maltese, Bloodsport also stops her from being flattened by a truck. In turn, she summons a fleet of rats that end up chewing Starro from the inside out. Bloodsport also steps up to become the surrogate “father” of the Squad – first by directing them into battle against Starro and then threatening to leak the U.S. government’s connection to Starro in order to get Waller off their backs.
Another character who’s struggling with family issues is Abner Krill, aka the Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian). Krill’s mother, a scientist obsessed with creating superheroes, eventually infected him with an inter-dimensional virus that takes the form of floating polka-dots that eat through anything in their path. In addition to having to expel the virus twice a day in order to avoid death, Krill literally sees his mother everywhere he goes-even the other members of the Squad look like her. Krill eventually does fulfill the heroic destiny his mother envisioned for him, dealing Starro a critical wound at the cost of his own life.
The Squad comes together as a “family” during two critical moments. The first comes during a mission to abduct the Thinker (Peter Capaldi) in order to gain access to the prison known as Jotunheim; they decide to have a drink and loosen up. What follows is one of the most energetic, heartfelt scenes in a modern-day blockbuster: Ratcatcher 2, Peacemaker and Polka-Dot Man take to the dance floor while Bloodsport and Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) exchange old war stories. Even Sebastian the rat has a drink.
Gunn continues to explore themes of family in The Suicide Squad spinoff series Peacemaker, which picks up after the events of the film. Christopher Smith’s juvenile bravado is revealed to conceal long-held trauma brought on by the death of his brother, and his toxic relationship with his father Auggie (Robert Patrick), who blames him for his brother’s death. Complicating matters, Auggie is also the white supremacist supervillain known as the White Dragon, and by the end of the latest episode, “Murn After Reading”, has resolved to kill his own son.
Much like the members of the Squad, Smith even finds a surrogate family of sorts in the task force he’s been assigned to work with, which includes CIA agent Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland), tech expert Steve Economos (Steve Agee), Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks), and his self-proclaimed “best friend” Adrian Chase/Vigilante (Freddie Stroma). Much like The Suicide Squad, it takes a while for the team to gel together; Harcourt calls Smith “a piece-of-shit murderer” and Smith holds anger toward Economos for framing his father for murder to cover the team’s tracks.
Things turn around in the fifth episode, “Monkey Dory” when the team raids a factory where the alien Butterflies are making their food supply, leading to Economos saving Smith’s life by using a chainsaw to kill a Butterfly-possessed gorilla. The two even connect over the music of Hanoi Rocks – specifically the song “11th Street Kids,” which ends up being the name of a group chat that Harcourt creates for the team.
Smith and Adebayo also forge a bond of sorts, as she can see the trauma that his father has inflicted on him. She even attempts to manipulate Vigilante into killing Auggie while he’s locked in prison. However, Adebayo’s interest turns out to be calculated as Waller – who is also her mother – placed her on the team to set up Smith for a fall after Project: Butterfly ends. It makes for a tragic note, as even Smith’s found family has let him down.